Breaking The Silence: Alnor as News Editor

Article ID: BTS2010-03 | By: Elliot Miller

Breaking The Silence

Chapter Three:
Alnor as News Editor

In 1985 we transformed the Forward newsletter into a full-fledged, subscription-based, quarterly magazine. It was my goal that we would have a viable news department in the magazine that would keep our readers informed on significant developments in the worlds of the cults, the occult, and Christian apologetics. To develop that department I needed to find a professional journalist who was conversant not only with religion but with the cults and apologetics. I found then, as I have continued to find, that a journalist who fits that description does not come along often. Around that time I became acquainted with Alnor, who had been a reporter for a Pennsylvania daily newspaper and more recently had been the editor of National and International Religion Report. He was also a member of the Christian countercult community. Alnor expressed interest in the news editor position and sent me his résumé, which looked impressive. In the Summer 1987 issue I began accepting news stories from him and one year later I placed him in the position of news editor, which included writing most of the news stories. (Alnor was never an employee of CRI. He was a part-time freelancer working across the country from CRI’s headquarters.)

At first the arrangement seemed to be working out well. When he would submit to me his list of story ideas for the next issue, it was obvious that not much taking place in our field was escaping him. Although his work typically required intensive editing, it was packed with information and through his contributions we were doing a better job of staying on top of the important stories. Our News Watch section expanded by one to two pages and was becoming more of what I envisioned it to be.

A Pattern of Factual Inaccuracy

It did not take long, however, before I began to receive negative feedback concerning Alnor’s work. CRI’s administrator at the time expressed her concern that his articles had a gossipy feel to them, reminding her of how the tabloids would tarnish people’s reputations on the basis of innuendo and conjecture rather than hard proof. The same concern was raised independently by a few different people, and each time it troubled me more, no doubt because at some level I perceived it to be true, but I had such a strong desire for things to work out with Alnor that I suppressed these disquieting thoughts.

I take responsibility for bringing Alnor into CRI and for not taking the initiative to terminate our professional relationship with him as problems with his work continued to mount. Many of Alnor’s stories were never challenged, but over the four-and-one-half years he wrote for News Watch enough stories were successfully challenged to establish a pattern of factual inaccuracy that would be disturbing to any publisher. It was especially troubling to us at the Christian Research Institute, since we had worked long and hard to establish a reputation for accuracy in research. I also take responsibility for publishing Alnor’s errors. Some of them I did catch before they saw print, others I had no means of cross-checking, but still others I could have and should have detected. Writing the following review of Alnor’s errors is something of a confessional exercise for me because I must also face and acknowledge several instances of poor judgment on my part.

Alnor’s first disputed story was the fourth he wrote for us (Winter/Spring 1988), “Is The Way International Crumbling?” In the following issue we printed a letter from one of the principals of the story, former Way leader John Lynn. In an unprinted portion of his letter Lynn stated “I do not recall William Alnor or anyone else asking me for any facts. Had he done so, he could have avoided the misinformation.…” In a May 5, 1988 letter I wrote to Alnor that this observation “gets right at the heart of our concern about your work in general.” I then noted for Alnor several valid criticisms Lynn made of his story, the first two of which resulted from not interviewing Lynn, the third of which concerned misrepresenting Way doctrine, and the fourth of which had to do with the use of an unidentified source.[1]

In the Fall 1988 issue (Alnor’s second as news editor), the lead story, “Turmoil in the Local Church,” was so filled with problems that I had to step in and rewrite it, and my name appears before Alnor’s in the byline. Nonetheless, a misrepresentation of Local Church elder John Ingalls still made it into the article because it was based on an interview Alnor conducted with him that I had no direct way of cross-checking. Alnor reported that “Ingalls said the church [in Anaheim] has not achieved a complete break with [sect leader Witness] Lee,” and this required a clarification in the following issue that “the church in Anaheim has not broken with Witness Lee, nor does it wish to.” When I brought Ingalls’s objection to Alnor’s attention Alnor replied that he believed Ingalls’s concerns were “semantic in nature.” I pointed out to him that his use of the word achieved “could easily be read as meaning the church is pursuing or considering a complete break with Lee.”

In the same Fall 1988 issue more serious journalistic errors occurred in the story “Is Reconstructionism Merging with Kingdom Now?” Kingdom Now is a theologically aberrant “latter rain” charismatic movement that believes in “the fivefold ministry” that includes modern-day apostles and prophets. Reconstructionism is a theologically conservative Calvinist movement that holds to theonomy (the belief that the civil law of Moses remains in force today) and postmillennialism (the belief that Christ will return after the Millennium). About the only beliefs these two camps have in common is that Christians are to “take dominion” over the world politically before Christ returns. Alnor, however, based his article’s unlikely premise on the word of a former Assembly of God pastor supposedly turned Reconstructionist named David Baird, who organized a symposium to which he invited leaders of both camps. Alnor quoted Baird in the article as affirming that the symposium was “an attempt to merge Reconstructionism with ‘Kingdom Now’ theology and it was successful.” This is a radical claim that Reconstructionists vigorously denied and subsequent history did not bear out, and yet Alnor provided no countering viewpoint in the article, leaving the impression that it was undisputed fact. Alnor also quoted Baird as stating that “Reconstructionists would agree with the five-fold ministry (as taught by [highly controversial Kingdom Now leader “Bishop” Earl] Paulk and many charismatic teachers) as a historic reality in the church.” Alnor further stated that Reconstructionist leader Gary North spoke at the symposium.

We received a long dissenting letter to the editor from Reconstructionist leader Gary DeMar that we printed in the next issue. He pointed out that Alnor never contacted him or any of the other Reconstructionists who Baird invited to his symposium and that Gary North neither was scheduled to speak nor attended the event. DeMar stressed that he was invited to participate in a “dialogue” between the two camps, but the word or idea of “merger” was never brought up. DeMar also emphasized that his purpose in accepting the invitation from Baird, whom he’d never heard of, was to delineate the differences between Kingdom Now and Reconstructionism. Contrary to what Alnor quoted Baird as affirming, DeMar emphasized that he did not know of one Reconstructionist teacher who would agree with the fivefold ministry doctrine.

Crusader Journalism

This was clearly a botched story of major proportions, and Walter Martin was now expressing concerns about Alnor’s errors. At this time Alnor also began to exhibit a disquieting behavior that would later be recognized as a pattern. It emerged in response to a controversy that was raging around Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a seminal Christian thinker and apologist, the founder of Simon Greenleaf School of Law (which included an MA program in apologetics), and a long-time colleague and friend of Walter Martin. The controversy primarily involved allegations of improper conduct by Montgomery in his role as dean of Simon Greenleaf. Alnor, whose wife Jackie had previously worked as Montgomery’s secretary at Simon Greenleaf, took it upon himself to expose what he considered to be Montgomery’s breach of Christian ethics, and he used multiple print and broadcast media outlets to accomplish this, including Christianity Today. Alnor’s pursuit of Montgomery escalated into a heated feud between the two men, with Montgomery threatening to sue Alnor and Alnor threatening to expose Montgomery all the more. Alnor wrote Montgomery’s associate Michael Smythe in a January 26, 1989 letter, “Please also tell him that if he wants to sue me, go right ahead.…I will not be intimidated; in fact such threats only serve to fortify me. I will continue to write the truth no matter what the consequences are. I would consider such a suit persecution for righteousness’ sake. Here I stand.” In his letter to Smythe (and also in a letter published in the Christian News), Alnor sought to establish his “integrity as an evangelical writer” by stating, “I am the news editor of the Christian Research Journal (Dr. Walter Martin).”

Near Termination and Probation

The cumulative effect of Alnor’s inaccurate reporting and his invoking of CRI and Walter himself in his crusade against Montgomery was too much for Walter to tolerate, and he began pressing me to fire Alnor. Before taking such a drastic measure I wrote some strong letters to Alnor in which I laid it on the line as to what he would have to do to retain his job. In a March 10, 1989 letter Alnor agreed that he would no longer refer to CRI or Walter in his campaign to expose Montgomery, and he even agreed to put that campaign behind him. He offered an explanation about his pursuit of Montgomery that would prove insightful into his rationale for what would become a series of crusades to bring negative publicity to disparate Christian leaders. Alnor wrote, “Please believe me when I tell you that I believe my role in exposing the story was directed by the Holy Spirit, which made it impossible for me to duck.” Regarding errors in his stories, I sent Alnor a four-page letter on May 5, 1989, in which I pointed out to him the problems with his articles that had not been cleared up by his attempts to explain them. I then concluded with a list of guidelines for him to follow in his reporting that would correct corresponding problems that had been surfacing with his writing:

To sum up, here are the lessons that can be learned from these experiences for future reporting: 1) Always make a serious effort to interview all parties involved in a story. 2) Carefulness in wording is crucial (as with the word theology in the merger article, and achieve in the LC article). 3) Avoid hearsay at all costs. 4) Whenever possible, double-check information obtained from interviews. 5) Avoid anonymous sources if possible, and certainly keep them to an absolute minimum. Although news articles do not require as much documentation as research articles, you are still writing for a scholarly journal that has built its reputation on painstakingly accurate research, not a tabloid or even a newspaper. Therefore, your articles should communicate to our readers that they have been carefully researched and are well-documented.

If you can take the time and make the effort to follow these guidelines, then we will be very happy to have you continue as our news editor. (emphases in original)

It needs to be stressed that all of these problems and tendencies in Alnor’s work and conduct were noted before Hank Hanegraaff came to CRI. If not for my intervention he would have been fired according to the wishes of Walter Martin. Documentation for this consists in my letters to Alnor, my memos to Walter Martin, a letter from Walter Martin to John Warwick Montgomery, Alnor’s letters to me, Alnor’s letter to Michael Smythe, and letters to the editor to the Journal. It therefore cannot be claimed that Alnor’s recklessness as a reporter is a charge that CRI drummed up after he took a public stand against Hank Hanegraaff.

Whenever I confronted Alnor about problems with his work he expressed his sincere intention to do better and stressed that he was a team player. Each time he would say this it mollified me and my associate editor, Ron Rhodes. Alnor made his strong desire to continue with CRI clear. He regularly included his position and relationship with CRI as a central part of his bio when speaking or writing publicly, and it seems quite evident that that association helped open other doors for him later on, such as obtaining book contracts with Baker Book House, which had expressed interest in publishing books by CRI authors and did indeed publish books by several of us. During the two years following my May 25, 1989 letter to Alnor he did perform better and none of his stories were contested.

Problems Resurface: The “Set Free” Story

In June of 1989 Walter died and Hank succeeded him as president of CRI. Between the Spring 1991 and Winter 1992 issues a spate of new problems for CRI emerged from Alnor’s work and conduct that led to the termination of his news editor position beginning with the Summer 1992 issue.

In the Spring 1991 issue Alnor wrote a story on Set Free Christian Fellowship based in Anaheim, California. The article was filled almost from beginning to end with allegations that ex-members of Set Free had made concerning the group and particularly its leader, Phil Aguilar. Twenty-one extremely serious allegations of abuse were specified. No direct quotes from ex-members were included; rather, the article referenced a document that had been compiled and turned over to CRI by Calvary Chapel’s Oden Fong. Other than one sweeping denial, there was no balancing of the allegations with Set Free’s side of the story.

In the following issue (Summer 1991) we printed a poignant reply from William and Kara Schwab of Corona, California, who said they were not members of Set Free but had attended the church a few times and had “witnessed literally hundreds of teenagers come to know the Lord” at Set Free:

…How could such a reputable Christian magazine write such an opinionated, biased article without doing any research, and we quote, “CRI has not yet determined, however, whether it will launch a full-scale investigation of the group.” You printed an article with no knowledge of the material.

…You have taken a stand (whether you agree or not) against a church without doing any research just by printing the article. What right does your publication have in printing information that has not been investigated? Granted, Calvary Chapel is a reputable source and there may very well be truth to it, but what right does a fact-based ministry have in “gossiping” about information floating around without looking into it, thus putting a question on their own integrity. Do we do it for the sake of news? To let others know the “talk of the town”? Does not the Bible call that gossip? Is it worth the risk of damaging the body of Christ to tell the news? You have now passed over the fine line of truth-seeking and entered into witch hunting. Would the “News Watch’ section be better titled as the “Enquirer” or perhaps the Christian “Star”?

In the past your investigations of groups have always included personal quotes of the “victims.” We do not see any there.

….

This letter was a devastating indictment both of Alnor and of CRI. In my reply to the Schwabs I sought to defend the article by pointing out what Alnor had said: he had tried four times to interview Aguilar but Aguilar refused and the representative they did make available for an interview refused to discus any of the specific allegations. I said the fact that we had not decided to launch a “full-scale investigation” of Set Free did not mean we lacked sufficient information about the group to print the article. But even at the time I was more uncomfortable about this letter than any we had ever printed in the Response section of the Journal. It seemed the concerns I had suppressed about Alnor’s work being gossipy that had been raised by some within CRI early on were coming back to haunt me.

Hank Hanegraaff, who only became aware of the Set Free story after it was printed, was even more uncomfortable. He basically agreed with the Schwabs’ criticisms of the article and instructed all researchers within CRI that we would never again print an article like this. It was not that Hank was taking Set Free’s side or denying the possibility of abuse; but such damaging allegations should never be printed without substantial evidence and the opportunity for the other side to reply fully. This is how we developed our news stories both before and after Alnor, and it is significant that out of the eleven News Watch stories that have been challenged with at least some justification and/or required retractions or apologies in the Response section during the twenty-three year history of the department, six of them were stories written by Alnor during the five years he wrote for News Watch. (It is also noteworthy that two of the remaining five defective stories were written for us by Perucci Ferraiuolo, a journalist who wrote a total of four stories for us after Alnor was fired and who—under the pseudonym Gunther Sardasian—would later become Alnor’s comrade-in-arms against Hank. His tabloid approach to journalism was so similar to Alnor’s that we honestly could not tell which one of them was writing the articles posted on Ferraiuolo’s now-defunct anti-CRI Web site, On the Edge. By sharp contrast, Doug LeBlanc, who has written news stories for us for the past thirteen years, has never had the accuracy of one story challenged; Gretchen Passantino, who was our news editor for four years, only had one story challenged. Only three stories in twenty-three years that were not written by Alnor or Ferraiuolo have been challenged!)

Although this does not quite mark the end of Alnor’s association with CRI, this is a pivotal point in that association and a few key points should be noted about it. First, all of this happened before Alnor’s attitude toward Hank turned sour. Second, as correspondence from the time fully documents, Hank’s resistance to the campaign Alnor launched against Set Free beginning with this story was the very thing (combined with his subsequent termination) that turned Alnor against Hank. Third, many things that were objectionable about the way Alnor handled the Set Free story have been replicated in the way he has handled the CRI story (indeed, in the way he handles many stories), including: (1) he accepted allegations as true without sufficiently seeking to understand and represent the other side of the story; (2) he went about trying to correct wrongs he believed to be present in a ministry in a way that would be damaging to that ministry rather than in a way that would bring restoration; and, as will become more evident below, (3) he behaved and spoke as though he had a divine mandate for going after a Christian ministry. While we and many other observers perceived such behavior as astonishingly self-righteous and presumptuous, Alnor once again claimed he was simply being obedient to the Holy Spirit.

Alnor’s One-Man Campaign against Set Free

Throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 1991 Alnor continued his campaign against Set Free Christian Fellowship. He co-wrote articles for Christianity Today and National and International Religion Report on it. To be fair to him, there were a number of allegations he was hearing about this ministry that were disturbing. Set Free clearly was a worthy subject for an investigative reporter to tackle, as the recent arrest of Aguilar and other sect members on charges of attempted murder of Hell’s Angels members, with whom they got into a brawl, bears out.[2] Unfortunately, however, he brought his penchant for factual inaccuracy, poor judgment, and sensationalism into his pursuit of Set Free, all the while trying to prod CRI to join him in exposing the ministry.

He also committed a journalistic sin that he himself recognized (in a memo to CRI dated May 4, 1991) would disqualify him from reporting on Set Free, a sin that he was particularly prone to and certainly would fall into where CRI is concerned: he made himself a part of the story while continuing to report on it as though he were an objective journalist. On October 25, 1991 he sent out a mass mailing to every Calvary Chapel nationwide and to four hundred additional churches in the Southern California area. He warned the pastors that Set Free was planning to open branches nationwide and was targeting Christians and young people in churches such as theirs in an attempt to grow larger. He accused Phil Aguilar of using “cult-like” techniques to control and lord it over his people, although he said he wouldn’t classify Set Free as a cult because it adheres to cardinal doctrine. He said, “I have talked to many people over the last year who have been badly hurt by this hostile group” and alleged that many Spirit-filled believers have been cut off from communication with their children due to pressure from Set Free. He referenced and offered to make available the 318-page collection of testimonials from ex-members compiled by Oden Fong. He then proceeded to make specific allegations against Aguilar and Set Free, and concluded, “If Phil Aguilar or his rap group, ‘The Posse,’ are scheduled to appear at your church, I implore you to consider cancelling all such appearances to protect your flock.”

In a November 30, 1991 letter to Hank, Alnor appealed to Hank to get with the program in opposing Set Free. He sent Hank a sermon transcript in which he claimed “Aguilar claims you endorse him and Set Free thoroughly.” In the five-page letter he attempted respectfully to correct several misconceptions he believed Hank had about Set Free and to fill Hank in on Set Free’s abuses and on the history of both his and Calvary Chapel’s interactions with Set Free. He concluded:

The last thing I would like you to consider as you are reading this is that I would feel better about my unique role with CRI if you had more confidence in my discernment abilities. I am not perfect. But you will see my byline associated with cult research all the way back to 1979. I have a great deal of research experience in cult apologetics, particularly as it relates to groups like Set Free. I know I am seen by some there as being “combative.” I don’t think this is true about myself—I always try to get to the core of cult problems (and related problems) in a Christ-honoring manner. But I never back down when people lie to me, harass me, or try to cover things up. I become a pit bull then. This approach is not only biblical, but it works. Most of the CRI staff has little idea of my work on the East Coast with various cults. My confrontational style has led to the release of hundreds of people from groups like Set Free.

In a four-page December 6, 1991 letter, Hank responded both to Alnor’s letter to him and to his mass mailing to the churches. The following excerpt from the letter includes the main concerns he raised with Alnor:

In a letter you claim to have sent to 300 or more Calvary Chapels, dated October 25, 1991, you cite an article from the Orange County Register which reveals that, “although Phil Aguilar claims to be living under a vow of poverty, he lives extravagantly, and has 20 vehicles registered to his/and or the church’s name.” Although I have not done exhaustive research on this matter, my preliminary investigation seems to indicate that, rather than being condemned for his lifestyle, Aguilar might well be commended for it. Whether this preliminary observation holds up or not after further investigation, I would point out that making this sort of an inflammatory statement when, by your own admission you have not done adequate research on this matter yourself, is inconsistent with good research and is, in my estimation, hardly fair.

You also mention that, “Aguilar and dozens of Set Free bikers began coming to Oden Fong’s Bible studies in apparent intimidation attempts.” Again, this statement appears to be inaccurate. Not only has Oden Fong indicated this is an inaccurate statement, but several others with whom I have spoken to date indicate that this is an inaccurate and misleading allegation.

In a recent phone conversation, you indicated to my secretary, Kathie, that your sources told you Phil had taped my previous phone conversation with him, and confirmed to me in a phone conversation that this had allegedly taken place as well. Again, let me point out that even a cursory examination of this issue seems to indicate this is simply untrue and is not even commensurate with Aguilar’s style. Rather, it seems more consistent with the practices of some of the others involved in this matter.

Bill, at this writing I have not yet had the opportunity to look into other issues raised in your October 25 letter and the CRI Journal news article. However, if your remarks are in fact inaccurate with respect to the aforementioned issues, it gives me some reason for concern that your investigation has not been as careful as one might like it to be and that you have come to premature conclusions based on evidence that has not yet been fully substantiated. I do not wish to be overly critical at this point, but I am concerned that your letter addressed to pastors across the nation presents a fairly strong statement about the credentialed authority by which you are writing.

Furthermore, I would hope that if in fact the statements sent to these pastors prove to be premature or inaccurate, you would rectify the situation.

Before closing, I would like to bring to your attention three concerns I have with your letter of November 30, 1991.

  1. On page two of your letter, paragraph three, you make the statement that Phil is trying to get my endorsement despite what my research staff has “determined.” Let me point out that, as of this writing, our research staff has not made any final determination on the issues regarding Set Free Christian Center.
  2. In the last paragraph on page two of your November 30 letter, you mention that you disagree with my reasoning in the matter concerning the CRI Journal story on Set Free. My question to you is this: How in the world can you disagree with my reasoning without having any confirmation on what my reasoning is in the first place?
  3. On the last page, you comment about my “lack of confidence” in your discernment abilities. Let me quickly point out that discernment is not the primary issue. The only issue that I am raising reflects the accuracy of statements. However, since you mention discernment, let me state that I do question your discernment and motivation in sending copies of the November 30 letter [i.e., Alnor’s letter to Hank] to people at CRI and outside of CRI without giving me the opportunity to first respond.

In conclusion, I want to emphatically assert that I am not in any way suggesting that the fact that you may have made inaccurate statements or errors of judgement with regards to the items mentioned above means that I am discounting either the possibility or the probability that there are indeed substantive problems at Set Free. For all I know at this point, you may be 100% correct in classifying Set Free as a cult from a sociological perspective. But the fact remains that CRI as an institute is not yet ready to make a definitive statement.

My point, Bill, is simply this: Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot so that, if indeed there truly is a problem with regards to substantial matters like authoritarian control or shepherding, we haven’t lost our credibility by making inaccurate statements with regard to peripheral matters which can easily be checked out.

Alnor’s relentless and reckless pursuit of Set Free was pushing his relationship with CRI to the breaking point. Expressing his concern that CRI was losing confidence in him, he agreed to curb some of his activities regarding Set Free, but unlike the Montgomery situation two years earlier, he refused to put the matter behind him. He wrote to CRI’s vice-president of research, Bob Lyle, in a February 20, 1992 letter, “I believe you may have allowed yourself to fall prey to slick words of a con man [i.e., Aguilar] who tried to discredit me any way he could.” He wrote, “Please also realize that I don’t totally disagree with all of your position. I appreciated what you had to say about not dwelling on peripheral issues such as wealth and matters like that with sticking to biblical doctrine.…I am also in agreement with you, obviously, when you said my activities along these lines impacts CRI due to my relationship with the Journal.” Nonetheless, he went on for most of his eight-page letter attempting to justify his crusade against Aguilar. It was clear that his philosophy of countercult ministry and his methods for doing it sharply differed from CRI, and he couldn’t keep himself from getting involved in one situation after another where he would display his differing approach from CRI’s before a public that knew he was our news editor.

This chapter in Alnor’s relationship with CRI is extremely relevant to our purposes here because it sheds light on his rationale and modus operandi in going after Christian ministries, which he ultimately would use against CRI itself. In that same February 20, 1992 letter to Bob Lyle, Alnor wrote,

In the past my exposé type stories and direct action were instrumental in driving a 300-member cult congregation out of Delaware County, Pa. Public pressure I helped unleash on that group (that was very much like Aguilar’s church) led to more than 200 people leaving and to the fringe church changing its name. My exposés on the Church of Bible Understanding…was instrumental in that group’s fall from 2,000 members down to 250. I was also instrumental in forcing the break-up of various churches associated with doomsday preacher Brother R. G. Stair.…

.…Because of my belief that few Christians (many cult ministries included) do not do enough to expose cults publicly in a scriptural manner, I have been willing from time to time to take on the wrath of a cult in order for the truth to come out. This was one of those times. And believe me, I believe I was obedient to God’s Word and to the testimony of His Spirit in orchestrating the mailing. I only acted after much prayer and conviction, and as a result of it many churches have wised up to the true nature of the dark side of Set Free.

With these and similar comments Alnor provides us a window into his mind. When he launches a campaign publicly to expose and bring down a presumably corrupt Christian leader he is saying yes to the Holy Spirit at risk to himself so that innocent Christians will no longer be taken advantage of by that leader. While other Christians may be afraid to speak or stand for the truth because of the consequences they will suffer, Alnor has the boldness and selflessness to do so. The more opposition he may encounter from the leader or group, the more Alnor will dig in his heels and the harder he will fight. As he wanted Michael Smythe to tell John Warwick Montgomery, “Here I stand.” He is a modern-day Martin Luther.

But what if Alnor has prematurely drawn conclusions about the leader or group he’s targeted? What if he has never really made the effort to understand their side of the story? What if his sense of divine calling to launch such a campaign makes him feel so justified in his actions that he fails to scrutinize them properly to see if his behavior truly is biblical and led by the Spirit? What if in his zeal to bring others to accountability he never stops to see that he himself is unaccountable?

Further Problems with Accuracy

During the period that Alnor was pursuing Set Free several new stories that he wrote for us generated the same old criticisms of his work. “Substantial portions” of Alnor’s Spring 1991 story on the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) “contained faulty information,” according to a May 23 letter from WCG Assistant Director of Public Affairs Michael A. Snyder.[3]

His Fall 1991 story, “Roy Masters-linked ‘New Dimensions’ Magazine Draws Fire” drew fire itself from Roy Masters in the following Winter 1992 Response column of the Journal. Masters wrote, “Author William Alnor ignored the first rule of journalism: Get both sides of the story. He never spoke to me nor did he ever bother to contact anyone at New Dimensions magazine.” As a result of relying solely on Walter Martin’s 1980 book, The New Cults, and failing to interview the principals in his story, as I had exhorted him to do in my May 25, 1989 letter, Alnor failed to note a significant movement toward orthodoxy that had occurred in Masters’s theology since the publication of The New Cults. I found the reply to Masters that Alnor wrote for publication so unsatisfactory (e.g., “As Mr. Masters pointed out, most other reporters did not seek to interview him either”), that I followed it with my own “Editor’s note,” in which I acknowledged that Masters “admits to past error and seems to sincerely identify with orthodox Christians,” but “his theology remains problematic in several areas.”

In addition to the six defective News Watch stories that Alnor submitted to us, he and coauthor Ronald Enroth submitted a feature article to us on “Ethical Problems in Exit Counseling” for the Winter 1992 issue that was more riddled with problems than any of his news stories. Furthermore, the problems in the article were all traceable to sections that Alnor, not Enroth, wrote.

The exit counseling article was something I had agreed for Alnor to coauthor with Ronald Enroth because I, too, was concerned about ethical problems in the practice, which involved getting cult members into a situation isolated from the cult and trying to break the cult’s “mind control” of the members by persuading them that the cult was not what its leaders claimed it to be. The article Alnor and Enroth submitted, however, proved to be so flawed that soon after publishing it we pulled it out of circulation as a CRI resource document and rank it among the two or three most painfully embarrassing articles we’ve ever published. To detail all of the problems with this article would require too much space and so I will succinctly list several of the most prominent ones:

  • A former cult member denied that the description Alnor gave of her exit counseling experience was accurate. She maintained that Alnor never told her he would be using what she confided to him in an article or that he was even writing an article.[4]
  • Exit counselor Carol Giambalvo stated that Alnor never told her their conversation was an interview, nor did he ask for permission to quote her. Furthermore, he misrepresented her as saying that a committee of exit counselors met to discuss ethical standards for exit counseling and that they “decided” on a set of standards. In fact, no formal association of exit counselors even existed to form a committee, they were not affiliated with the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), as Alnor implied, and they only discussed standards; nothing was decided.[5]
  • Alnor affirmed that prominent exit counselor Steve Hassan was kidnapped during his deprogramming with the Moonies, which Hassan denies. Alnor wrongly wrote that Hassan was resentful toward his deprogrammers when in fact he was grateful. Alnor said Hassan was so bitter after his deprogramming that he wanted nothing to do with it when in fact during the first year after he left the Moonies Hassan actively participated in twelve deprogrammings. Alnor also claimed that Hassan stated that he doesn’t “endorse any kind of situation in which adults are kidnapped” when, in fact, Hassan has written that it is justified in some situations.[6]
  • Alnor stated that highly controversial deprogramming pioneer Ted Patrick “helped found the Citizens’ Freedom Foundation [CFF; the original name of CAN],” which was not true.[7]

As if the numerous errors in this article did not create enough problems for CRI, Alnor also represented CRI poorly in his personal responses to the offended members of the exit counseling and anticult communities. In letters on which he copied me to these people and to others he was writing stories on, Alnor repeatedly used phrases such as, “I am very disturbed at you,” “I am very offended by your statement,” and “I demand an apology.”[8]

Alnor’s final article for CRI in the Spring 1993 issue, “Heaven Can’t Wait: A Survey of Alleged Trips to the Other Side,” required such extensive editing that it had to be postponed an issue and was challenged in the next issue’s letters section by the publisher of author Betty Eadie. This adds up to a grand total of eight problematic articles that Alnor wrote for us, which puts him in a class by himself of all the hundreds of authors who have written for the Journal in its thirty-one-year history.

Termination

From his sloppy and sensational stories, to his imprudent public pursuits of Christian personalities, to his contentious communications with his critics, Alnor was poorly representing CRI and in many ways running counter to our philosophy of ministry. Clearly, his continuing in the position of news editor had become untenable. In February 1992 my six-member editorial board, including associate editor Ron Rhodes, unanimously advised me it was time to fire Alnor. I clearly remember Robert M. Bowman, Jr., whom Alnor would later join forces with in opposition to Hank, saying, “He has to go.” There was nothing I could any longer say in Alnor’s defense and so I yielded and agreed to fire him, on the provision that I would not do so until after he finished his assignments for the upcoming issue. In the meantime I would search for his replacement, so News Watch production could continue without a hitch.

The same month I contacted Russell Chandler, former religion writer for the Los Angeles Times and author of a book on the New Age movement, about taking on the position of news editor. Chandler needed time to consider the offer in light of his other commitments. He contacted Alnor to discuss the position and so Alnor became aware of my intention to replace him. Alnor called me at CRI on the night of February 27[9] to discuss the matter and so at that point I was compelled to tell him of our decision earlier than I had planned. I provided him with the reasons why we had reached this decision, specifically his patterns of erroneous reporting and inappropriate behavior for the news editor of the Journal.

This was a difficult conversation for me because I considered Alnor a friend, I believed he was well intentioned, and I had always had a soft place in my heart for him sufficient to want to accommodate his desire to work for, and be associated with, CRI. He asked me if he could continue to be a contributing editor (i.e., a contributing writer) for the Journal and against my better judgment I said yes. He also asked if I would say in the From the Editor column that he was moving on to concentrate on his Eastern Christian Outreach ministry. Since that was indeed what he would be doing, I agreed to do so. A week later, when I received a resignation letter from Alnor dated March 2, I was naively puzzled. I concluded that he was trying to preserve his résumé from a significant blemish.

Although the only article by Alnor that we published subsequent to his being removed from the news editor position was the aforementioned Spring 1993 feature “Survey of Alleged Trips to the Other Side,” we continued to list Alnor as a contributing editor through the Fall 1994 issue. He made it clear throughout the period that he wanted it that way, but his relationship with CRI became increasingly strained.


[1] Lynn’s four criticisms of Alnor were: (1) he mischaracterized the nature of a group of ex-Wayers that Lynn started; (2) he stated that Lynn accused the Way leadership of error in denying the deity of Christ when, in fact, Lynn himself denied the deity of Christ and the Way leadership error Lynn was concerned about was denial of the lordship of Christ; (3) he erroneously affirmed that The Way teaches the necessity of speaking in tongues to be saved; (4) he cited a characterization of ex-Wayers from an unidentified source that Lynn maintained is totally false.

[2] See Tony Barboza and H. G. Reza, “7 Christian Bikers Arrested in Orange County Raid,” Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2008, http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/california/la-me-bikers7-2008aug07,0,6283593,full.story.

[3] Basing much of his story on the anti-WCG Ambassador Report, Alnor inaccurately reported the WCG’s financial condition, their reason for ceasing the circulation of their Good News magazine, the reason for the decrease in circulation of Plain Truth magazine (which was an administrative decision to move the focus away from social commentary to religious matters), the number of television stations carrying The World Tomorrow program, and that the WCG had “phased out’ circulation of Plain Truth in various parts of the world. Alnor also gave prominence to the erroneous speculations of WCG critic James Walker, who took a skeptical view of the WCG reforms that were eventually proven to be authentic and sweeping. To be fair, Alnor did highlight many of the positive changes that were taking place in the WCG at the time.

[4] July 29, 1992 letter to William Alnor, copied to Elliot Miller and David Clark. The individual referenced requested that her name not be used in this document and we have complied. Copy on file.

[5] March 16, 1992 letter from Carol Giambalvo to William A. Alnor, copied to Ronald Enroth and Dr. Paul Martin. Copy on file.

[6] November 11, 1992 letter from Steven Hassan to “Mr. Alnor.” Copy on file.

[7] I originally supported Alnor on this point but, after examining documents supplied by CFF/CAN founder Henrietta Crampton proving that Patrick neither called the foundational meeting for CFF nor participated in the organization thereafter, I published a retraction of this assertion in the Spring 1993 issue.

[8] For example, he wrote in a July 24, 1992 letter to CFF/ CAN founder Henrietta Crampton, who had sought to convince him that Ted Patrick had not been involved in the founding of CFF, “Let me be upfront from the beginning. I am very disturbed at you.…I am disturbed over the tone of some your letters to me, particularly the one I got today accusing me of ‘knowingly’ allowing myself to be an agent of the Church of Scientology. What hogwash! I am demanding an apology from you for saying that.” Crampton had reasonably made that statement because the source Alnor cited was a Scientology publication, and Scientology very much wanted to tie Patrick, who had been convicted of kidnapping, with CFF/CAN.

[9] I can specify the exact date of this phone call because Alnor did so four days after the phone call in his March 2, 1992 “resignation” letter to me, on file.

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